Friday, December 26, 2014

2015....Just Keep On Running

"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
-The Red Queen (Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

Time to revisit my predictions for 2014. How did I do? And what lies ahead in 2015?

Here are the 2014 predictions (published December 26, 2013) and my official grades.

Prediction Number 1:
This one is a layup…Tiger Woods does not win a major.

Result: Nailed it. A+

Prediction Number 2:
Denver and Seattle meet in the Super Bowl. Weather plays a major factor in the game in favor of Seattle, but Peyton Manning throws a game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds.

Result: Denver and Seattle did meet up in the Super Bowl, but it was one-sided in favor of Seattle. C grade at best.

Prediction Number 3:
The Administration will keep moving the goalposts on Obamacare and the costs of the program will become unsustainable. Our healthcare system will get a lot worse, so you better take care of yourself.

Result: Depends on who you believe, but from what I see costs are going up and few are pleased with the program. I’d give myself a B+ on this one.

Prediction Number 4:
We’ll make significant progress on immigration reform. It’s a mid-term election year and this is an issue that politicians from both sides can get behind. And with an improving economy the business community needs workers.

Result: Our politicians are even dumber than I thought they were (and I think they are pretty dumb). Really nothing happened this year but a lot of rhetoric, as usual. This one feels like an F.

Prediction Number 5:
The unemployment rate drops below 6.5%. The economy is improving and long-term unemployment benefits are drying up. GDP growth will be in the 2.5-2.7% range in 2014.

Result: Solid on the unemployment and the economy did even better than expected. Grade A-

Prediction Number 6:
Anyone born after 1980 will cease using the words “twerking” or “swagger”.

Result: Twerking seems to have run its course. Still some swagger hanging on in football. B+

Prediction Number 7:
Matthew McConaughey will win the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club.

Result: Well alright, alright, alright....A+

Prediction Number 8:
St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series.

Result: Cards didn’t make it. F

Prediction Number 9:
Another year will pass with no significant movement toward addressing our federal deficit problem. The stock market will peak in Q3 and begin a downward slide into 2015.

Result: Correct on the federal deficit. Missed the stock market peak. It’s still rolling. C+

Prediction Number 10:
Hope I’m wrong, but something really bad is going to happen during the Winter Olympics.

Result: Glad that I missed this one. Grade F


Predictions for 2015

Prediction Number 1:
Green Bay and New England meet up in the Super Bowl. I’ll be rooting for the Packers, but they will end up losing to the Pats.

Prediction Number 2:
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tigers go to the World Series. Dodgers win in six.

Prediction Number 3:
I'm going out on limb here and predicting that oil prices do not drop below $50 barrel. We'll find out soon enough if I'm right. And I do not see it going above $70 in 2015.

Prediction Number 4:
Cheaper energy will keep the economy going. Even two months ago I didn’t see this steep of a drop in the price of oil. Put this much money in American consumer pockets and the economy will do just fine in the short run.

Prediction Number 5:
We commit more troops and resources in the battle vs ISIS.

Prediction Number 6:
There will be progress on immigration reform. I said it would happen in 2014 and was wrong. It has to happen in 2015.

Prediction Number 7:
A top ten truckload carrier will be purchased by a top five logistics (brokerage) company.

Prediction Number 8:
Someone other than Hillary Clinton will emerge as the Democratic front runner for 2016

Prediction Number 9:
A major hail storm is going to hit my place this year and I get a new roof. It’s just long overdue and that’s what happens every few years in Texas.

Prediction Number 10:
I will get my first hole in one. This is also long overdue and now that my shoulder is fixed I plan on playing a lot of golf. The odds are in my favor. Every "No" is one step closer to "Yes"…that sort of thing.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Advent

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”- Charlie Brown

Over the years, my wife has inspired me (…ok, forced me…) into daily readings during the Christmas Advent season. She usually buys a book with readings and a bible verse for every day of Advent. I tend to be cynical and grumpy by nature, more so during the “Holiday Season”. To me most of the Advent readings are like bad Hallmark cards, mind-numbingly banal with extra cheese. So I suffer through the process, trying to appreciate the occasional scripture readings and ignoring the puppies and snowflakes. But this year has been different. When she offered up the reading options, the list included Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “God is in the Manger”. Having read some of his works and knowing his story, I said let’s do this one.

Bonhoeffer was a German and a Lutheran minister who resisted Hitler and the Nazis. He was eventually arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, ended up in a concentration camp and was hung in April 1945, only a few weeks before Allied forces liberated the camp. He was 39 years old. Included in this advent book are excerpts from letters he wrote while in prison. Bonhoeffer was a devout Christian who spoke out against evil when most of his countrymen and even fellow Christians remained silent. What he has to say about this world and the meaning of the Incarnation are worth reading.

If you want to know what Christmas is about, read Bonhoeffer.

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Saturday, December 6, 2014

We Can't Breathe

My wife said that my comments last week about the Ferguson riots were too one-sided. Actually, I thought they were rather “fair and balanced”. She criticized me for saying that Michael Brown’s shooting was “legal” and a “necessity” as far as Officer Wilson was concerned. I stand by my comments, but for the sake of peace in the household will note that it is possible that Officer Wilson might have considered taking a different approach and not letting the situation get to the point where he emptied his gun at Michael Brown. And with regard to legality, perhaps the way the case was presented to the grand jury was somewhat flawed. But, the grand jury got it right. Michael Brown’s actions on that day in Ferguson, Missouri are the primary reason that Michael Brown is dead.

But, in the spirit of being “fair and balanced” let’s turn the page and consider the Eric Garner incident. I have no idea why the grand jury in this case did not come down with some sort of indictment and send it to trial. This one is bad, really bad. Overly aggressive police, using a choke-hold on a guy who was being busted for a misdemeanor. C’mon man. And now those who want to protest police brutality, especially as directed toward “people of color”, have their martyr and their slogan.

You know it may be time that we rethink the process for handling cases where law enforcement officers are charged with using excessive force. Perhaps local prosecutors should recuse themselves from presenting such cases. The perception is that they are just too close to the police. And when the grand jury no bills one of these cases, we see the result. People are losing confidence in the system and “people of color” are more than convinced that the system will not grant them their day in court. They believe that the police can do whatever they want and get away with it. I do not think that is the way it works most of the time. But it does work that way often enough that it is not unreasonable for some people to believe that’s how it works all of the time. And if it happens to you or someone you love, that is one time too many.

And then there are the larger issues of race and profiling. Most of us, regardless of our race, age or ethnicity; are biased. We buy into the stereotypes. I’m an old white guy and when someone sees me going down the road in my four-wheel drive pickup, wearing a dirty ball cap and having not shaved in three days; they are likely to assume that I am listening to country music (or Rush Limbaugh) and probably have a gun in the truck. None of those are true. I don’t dip snuff or drink cheap beer either. And, even though I go to church most every Sunday, I don’t believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and the devil himself planted those fossils just to deceive us. I tend to lean to the left on issues of immigration, gay marriage and assisted suicide. I lean right on economic issues, abortion, capital punishment, global warming and dropping bombs on our enemies. I think protesters have the right to protest, but not shutdown traffic and negatively impact honest business people who are just trying to make a living. I think police have the right to use force to protect and serve. But I don’t think they have the right to use excessive force or not be judged in a court of law when it is reasonable to think they did.

So I don’t want assumptions made about me based on my age, my race, where I live, how I dress, what I drive and how I talk. And I have to continually remind myself not to do that with others. But it’s hard to be open-minded when observation and experience are telling you that doing so is dangerous, maybe even deadly. And so it goes with the police and people of color. Yes, it’s hard to be open-minded, but it’s not impossible.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Burning Down The House

I watched the riot in Ferguson, Missouri Monday night. Channel flipping between CNN, FOX and MSNBC to get the middle, right and left sides of the story. Before the riot, I watched and listened to the County Prosecutor’s announcement. I was not surprised with the grand jury’s decision. The law in Missouri is very clear as it is in most states. Right or wrong, law enforcement officers are given a lot of leeway in using deadly force. A good thing to remember, by the way, if you’re ever tempted to challenge or threaten a police officer.

As I watched cars burn and store windows being broken and looters hauling off armfuls of snacks, beer and liquor from the store where Michael Brown’s last day took a very wrong turn; I thought about a line from an old movie where a young Marlon Brando is asked “What are you rebelling against?” and his character coolly replies, “Whada ya got?”

I get the feeling that the protestors/rioters in places like Ferguson have that same attitude most of the time. What are you protesting? Whatever “you got”. And right now “they got” Michael Brown. But this is not about Michael Brown. The shooting of Michael Brown was legal. Some may even consider it justified. If I am in Officer Darren Wilson’s shoes that day, it was a necessity.

But there are a lot of folks who don’t see it that way. They see Michael Brown and, most of all, themselves as victims. Victims of racism and injustice. They get the short end of the stick when it comes to educational and employment opportunities. They are arrested and incarcerated and, yes sometimes, shot and killed disproportionately. How much of it is their own fault can be debated. That it is so, cannot. And when it comes to how they are treated by some members of law enforcement and how they “think” they are treated by most members of law enforcement; they once again get the short end of the stick; sometimes up against the side of their heads. Is this treatment fair? No. Does it makes sense? Sometimes. Have they earned it? Yes, in some ways. Are they really victims? Yes, in some ways.

How do we fix it? Indicting Darren Wilson does not fix it. Even if he had been tried and found guilty and given a death sentence it would not have fixed the problem. In this nation, we have a very complex set of social, political and economic challenges which have existed for a long, long time. They are not new, but they are becoming more unmanageable. The “victims” have found their voice and their numbers are growing. We did not get into this mess overnight and we’ll not be getting out of it overnight. We are at the point where we cannot legislate our way out and we’ve proven that we cannot “welfare” our way out. Hearts and minds must change. That takes time and a lot of help from above.

Watch out, you might get what you're after
Cool baby, strange but not a stranger
I'm an ordinary guy
Burning down the house
-lyrics from the Talking Heads song “Burning Down The House”

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The One-Eyed Man

There is an old saying about “holding your nose” when you vote because all of the candidates stink. That’s pretty much my take on this week’s elections. While I am happy with the outcome, I really see it as the lesser of two evils. I hope that our leaders can get some things done, but I don’t expect it. Campaigning for 2016 has already begun and the focus of these career politicians is always on the next election. Doing their jobs is of secondary importance.

What I find most interesting is that the Number One objective for the two parties is to just find something they can agree on. It’s like a couple in a bad marriage who agree to stay together for the sake of the kids. It may be the best option at the moment, but in the long-run it seldom works out well for the couple or the kids. So our leaders point to immigration reform and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure as two issues where they might be able to find common ground. Don’t count on it. Almost immediately the conversation on immigration has become contentious. The Republicans can’t give up too much ground without alienating the far right and the Democrats must hang on to the Hispanic vote. Any compromise weakens both parties. Hopefully, repairing and upgrading the nation’s infrastructure might get some traction if it does not get linked to other issues such as Obamacare.

The one area where I expect a lot of agreement will be National Security. Both parties know that they must look strong against Islamic extremism and Russian expansionism. While I don’t expect them to agree on how to handle either issue, I do expect them to do a lot of talking and spend a lot of money. That’s what politicians do. And neither party wants to go into 2016 looking soft.

The sad truth is that the biggest threat to our National Security has not changed and is not likely to change. That would be our Debt Crisis. We have reached unsustainable levels of debt and it is unlikely that we can grow our way out of the problem. Reducing debt by aggressive spending cuts would hurt the economy in the short run and certainly have a negative impact on certain groups of voters. Then there are the special interests and their lobbyists who have paid for protection. No politician is going to kill their golden goose. I doubt that any of the conservatives who rail about government spending would cut much of it if they actually were empowered to do so. So we’ll keep printing money and whistling in the dark until our money isn’t worth much. Our only saving grace may be that the rest of the world is more screwed up than we are.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” - Erasmus

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What Are You Seeing Out There?

“What are you seeing out there?” I get this question a lot. I get it from both candidates and hiring authorities. I usually respond with a question along the lines of: “Do you mean the job market, the industry or the economy in general?” And, I usually get back “All of the above”.

So what am I seeing out there? First of all, understand that I am looking through the lens of transportation and logistics. And while it can be a pretty good indicator of overall economic activity, it is only one indicator. Secondly, the job market that I touch everyday is related to management and executive positions in the transportation, logistics and supply chain space. And that market has its own unique characteristics.

But these considerations notwithstanding, “what I am seeing” has relevance. And “what I am seeing” is a slowdown in hiring activity. It started in the summer and I thought it might be related to decision makers taking vacations and we would see things pick up in September. And we have seen a slight uptick in activity this Fall. But, it’s not enough to renew my confidence even though the number of total “job openings” across the nation has grown significantly year over year. It will be interesting to see how that growth holds up through the remainder of 2014 and into 2015. In our market, the hiring process has slowed and we are starting to see more clients “re-think” filling positions immediately. I would say that there is a growing concern about what the winter will bring and what to expect in 2015.

While freight remains strong and capacity is tight, I am starting to hear stories of downward pricing pressure in the heavy, specialized transportation segment. In my experience, this is an early indicator of an economic slowdown. Even more so, considering that overall capacity is down in that market. It will be interesting to see what happens in the flatbed and bulk sectors. To the extent those markets have benefited from the energy boom, demand there is trending down. Especially as it relates to new production. The upside is that cheaper energy will benefit other sectors of transportation and perhaps more importantly put more dollars in the consumer’s pocket. If there is one thing that may get us through the winter and 2015, it will be that cheaper energy translates to more consumer spending power.

The weakness in Europe and other foreign markets is starting to impact our economy. Of specific concern is that the manufacturing revival in the U.S. is very vulnerable to any decline in overseas demand. The political climate continues to worry and frustrate businesses while the specter of global terrorism poses a big “what if” question to every company’s strategic plan. And then there are long-term challenges related to massive government debt, a crumbling infrastructure, educating/training the next generation and figuring out how to support and care for an aging population.

Do I think the sky is falling? No. Do I think we are headed for another Great Recession? No. Do I think 2015-2016 will be up and down with more bad news than good. Yes. Will companies need exceptionally talented leaders more than ever? Yes. Will they actual hire them? Your guess is as good as mine.

Monday, October 13, 2014


As long as I can remember my dad’s side of the family has said we have “Indian blood”. Cherokee to be exact, from East Tennessee. My great-great grandfather was supposedly half-Cherokee. I have an old photo of his son, my great-grandfather, and I suppose he looks sort of Indian-ish. My grandfather and his siblings all tended to be sort of dark, with high cheek bones and a thirst for "fire water". My dad was the same. We tend to “hold our age” pretty well and “heal up fast” from wounds and injuries. So it all made sense. We had Indian blood.

Several years ago I started doing some digging and traced the Clicks back to SW Germany. The actual surname is Gluck and got changed to Click when they got to America. The first one arrived in the late 1700’s and the migration began through the Appalachians and eventually to Texas. Good stuff and I have filled in most of the Click family tree. Never could figure out exactly when the Indian got into “the woodpile”, but it was likely sometime in the early 1800’s.

A few years ago I thought about getting a DNA test just to confirm the Native American ancestry. But I figured, why waste the money? I’m German, Irish, English and Native American on my dad’s side; English, Irish and Scottish on my mother’s. A classic American mutt. But, I kept getting these emails and special deals from about DNA tests. Their persistent marketing along with my curiosity finally drove me to invest in a basic DNA profile test. It’s nothing elaborate. They mail you a tube, you spit in it, shake it up to activate the chemical preservative and mail it back to them. In a couple of weeks they email you a report outlining your most likely ancestral origins. For a lot more money, they can provide further testing and drill down even deeper into your DNA. But I figured the “basic” profile would be enough.

Much to my surprise, there was no Indian in the woodpile or in the cupboard or anywhere else. And, apparently after old Ludwig Heinrich Gluck landed in America and became Lewis Henry Click, there weren’t many more Germans added to the woodpile either. I’m only 10% “Western European”. Turns out that my DNA origins are as follows: 30% Great Britain, 24% Ireland, 20% Scandinavian, 12% Iberian, 10% Western Europe, 3% Western Asia, 1% Eastern Europe.

I had never heard anything about Scandinavian ancestors, but as it turns out the Vikings spread their seed liberally throughout the British Isles, especially in what became Scotland and Ireland. So I’m guessing that is where the big dose of Scandinavian DNA got added to the recipe. The Iberian is most likely Spanish or Portuguese. Those guys explored the world and obviously plugged into the family tree somewhere along the way.

Now I am even more curious about my roots. I also need to come up with a different narrative since I’m not part Indian. You know I think I like the Viking and Conquistador options better. Or maybe my great-great-great-great granddaddy was a pirate. That would be pretty cool. And it explains so much about my family.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

To Err Is Human…. And You Still Can’t Fix Stupid

Way back in 1999 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued its landmark report on medical errors, To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System. The report's finding that as many as 98,000 people die each year due to medical errors ignited professional and public dialogue. Some changes were made in response to this report. Most notably when you have surgery everyone, I mean EVERYONE, ask you who you are and what body part is having surgery. “X” marks the spot and for the most part they cut and dig in the right places these days.

Last week a man from Ebola-ravaged Liberia was taken to the emergency room at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. This man had all of the symptoms associated with Ebola and had just arrived from West Africa. Whoever admitted this gentleman had this information but somehow failed to communicate it to the medical team. Even still, one would think that reasonably intelligent doctors and nurses would recognize that this black man might not be from around here and perhaps they should double check his recent travel history given the symptoms. He did not have an African sounding name, so perhaps that led the medical team to think he was a local. And he was probably too ill to speak for himself. But somewhere along this chain of events, at least one person knew exactly where he had been and several should have suspected. Nonetheless, he was given some totally useless antibiotics and sent away. Several days later he was brought back, even sicker, after having exposed dozens of people to the Ebola virus. We are still waiting to find out if any of those individuals are actually infected.

The healthcare industry is not unlike other industries. The stakes are higher and more precautions are taken. And we pay a premium for the level of quality and safety we do receive from our healthcare system. But, they still make mistakes, do the wrong thing or fail to do the right thing. Just like other industries. We talk a lot about quality and in many ways products are better than they used to be. Design, engineering and manufacturing processes are, for the most part, very good. When there are bugs or glitches they get fixed. But when quality depends on a significant level of human involvement at the point of delivery…watch out.

If you pay attention, you’ll find that you seldom get a “perfect order” if the content of direct human input is very high. Most of the time it’s good enough and we don’t complain. So companies still feel OK about their service. At least until their customers quit buying. Honestly, I am surprised when anyone actually “gets it right”. I don’t know if service is getting worse, but it’s definitely not getting better. And furthermore, no one really notices or cares very much. In fact, it has sort of become an excuse for all of us doing a half-assed job at whatever it is we do.

We talk a lot about better, faster, cheaper…but the real order of priority is cheaper, faster and better. And better really means “perceived better” than the competition. So we consumers make trade-offs between price (cheaper), convenience (faster) and quality (better); and businesses respond accordingly. A lot of the time, the order you pick up at the drive-thru window is wrong, so you learn to check it. You know that the “sack boy” is clueless and/or doesn’t care so you watch how he bags your groceries. You buy warranties and keep your expectations low. If your computer runs slow it’s probably your own fault and if you can’t sleep at night it’s because that “number mattress” didn’t come in half-sizes or you should have bought the better (more expensive) pillows. And once in awhile, a person infected with a deadly virus walks out of a hospital emergency room.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Spare The Rod

Even if you don’t follow sports, you’ve probably heard the news about NFL super-star running back Adrian Peterson being indicted in Texas on charges of “reckless or negligent injury to a child.” Since that news came out, it’s been reported that he had also injured another one of his kids in the past. The league and the Minnesota Vikings have been confused about what to do, but apparently once the money (sponsors) started talking, the NFL and the team listened. Peterson will not play this season. And I think that is the right call.

Peterson is a lot younger than I am but it sounds like he grew up in a similar culture where “whoopin” your kids to make them behave was just part of responsible parenting. I guess I was lucky. My folks weren’t much on “whoopin”. I can remember a few spankings, but nothing major. I got one belt spanking from my Dad when I was 7 or 8 years old and it was for something I did not do. After the truth came out, he was crushed and he never laid a hand or a belt on me again. But even that “belting” did not leave any marks and as I recall, it didn’t hurt much. I was more pissed off and hurt by the injustice of it than anything else. However, I did a lot of other stuff that deserved punishment, so I figured this was just evening out the scales. It did leave me with a strong inclination to investigate accusations before jumping to conclusions. So I guess it turned out to be a good life lesson.

I knew other kids who got a lot of “whoopins”. From what I could tell, it did not do much good and probably made them even worse. And I can remember when teachers and coaches regularly “paddled” kids or gave out “licks” for misbehaving. Men paddled the boys and women paddled the girls. Everyone wanted to get a few licks now and then just to fit in and I got a few, but not often. And if it was really serious, they told your parents. I only had one instance where my parents were brought in and I was already in high school by then. It wasn’t that bad. Some of us cut class, “borrowed” a boat and went out drinking beer at the lake. Actually it was epic and one of my prouder moments for which I really got my tail-end busted by the high school principal. He was a former coach and football star who was strong as a mule and tough as nails. Those licks left marks for awhile. Although it was painful, it was over quickly and didn’t really cause me to see the error of my ways. A couple of months of picking up trash on the side of the highway would have probably made a longer, more lasting impression.

There may well be a time and place for “physical intervention” with kids, but it’s rare and it should not be violent or delivered in anger. Some of my Christian brothers and sisters quote the Bible about corporal punishment being ordained by God and if you love your kids you’ll spank them when they misbehave. I call B.S. on that and remind them that the Bible also calls for stoning a disobedient child (Deut 21 v 18-21). Pretty sure that’s a felony these days. So let’s not quote scripture to justify “whoopin” our kids.

On the flip side of the argument, I fear that the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction. We are now reaching the point where any level of physical punishment or even raising ones voice to a child is considered abusive. Basically, anything that is “negative” or makes the child “feel” bad about themselves is potentially abusive. I don’t think the touchy-feely, time-out, talk about it, let’s process it and understand why you’re being a little asshole approach is in the best interest of the child or society in general.

Like most things in life, the truth is somewhere between the two extremes. Adrian Peterson has become the poster child for one side. But let’s not stand by and allow another generation of children to become undisciplined, self-absorbed narcissists with no sense of right and wrong and no boundaries. There are enough of those out there already. I think the Bible gets it right when it comes to that reaping and sowing stuff.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hero Dogs

If you have read my blog in the past, you know that I’m a sucker for dogs. This week there was another dog story and if you missed it here’s the link:

Bretagne is a 15-year old rescue dog who has been nominated for a Hero Dog Award for a lifetime of service. She was only 2-years old when her owner brought her up to NYC after 9/11 to help with search and rescue efforts. She was back in NYC last week, 13 years later.

There were a lot of search and rescue dogs there in September 2001. Bretagne is the only one still alive. She has gone gray and slowed down, but seems to be doing quite well for such a old dog. If she could talk, what would she say about the new skyscraper that stands so near where she once moved quickly and gracefully through the burned out rubble at Ground Zero searching for life or just what had been life before those planes hit the Towers? Does she remember comforting the rescue workers who knew that their efforts were more about recovery than rescue, but still held out hope that someone might be alive down there somewhere? Did she ever ask what happened or why?

Bretagne retired from search and rescue in 2008 and now serves as an ambassador for search and rescue dogs, visiting elementary schools to play with the children while others tell her story. Younger dogs have taken her place and they too will grow old. They will also find themselves searching for whatever is left after disaster strikes. Man’s best friend doing their best in a broken world. We could all learn a lot from our dogs.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Free Advice

We used to live in a town that had a great farmers’ market down on the square. During late spring and early summer, one could go there on a Saturday morning and not only buy local products but also see local characters on display. It was a farmers’ market with a mixture of art show, carnival, music concert, political rally and tailgating all thrown in for good measure. One of my favorite characters was this guy who sat at a card table with only two things on it. A tip jar and a sign that said “Free Advice”. You could ask him anything and he would solemnly ponder the question and then give an answer. The answer might reflect the wisdom of Solomon or be totally off-the-wall ridiculous and often hilarious. But he never cracked a smile or engaged in any conversation beyond, “What is your question? My advice is as follows….”

As a headhunter, I offer quite a bit of free advice to clients and candidates regarding the job market. I consider the free advice as an investment in building positive long-term business relationships and do my best to make sure that it is sound advice. And as I watch what’s going on in the world, I feel the need to offer some free advice about a number of issues. It’s unlikely that anyone will care, much less take action. But at least I tried and did so for free.

So here’s some free advice on a variety of topics which should be easily identified (but I’ll provide some points of reference just in case):

_Follow the money. (Want to get the bad guys in the Middle East? Want to solve the immigration problem? Want to figure out why Washington is so dysfunctional? Why is there so much coverage of the Ferguson MO shooting?.)

_Avoid confrontation with law enforcement officials. (Ferguson MO and lots of other places)

_Married men, do not go on the radio and talk about all of the women you’ve had sex with. (Nick Cannon, aka Mr. Mariah Carey)

_ Do not flip people off. (Johnny Manziel)

_Drill baby drill. (Energy independence…which also sticks it to the bad guys in the Middle East, see “follow the money” advice above).

_Do not trust politicians. (You already knew that…pick any example from Putin to Obama).

_Always get a second opinion. (My shoulder surgery was successful and recovery is going well.)

_Do not leave kids, or pets for that matter, in a hot car. (How many more unnecessary deaths will it take?)

_Don’t waste water. (Hello… we are running out of water in a lot of places.)

_Do not allow expenses to exceed revenue. (Starting with the Federal Government.)

_Get some exercise. (You know this is good advice.)

_Spend time with God and if a voice tells you to cut off someone’s head, it’s not God’s.

_Read a book instead of watching television. (Reality TV is not real.)

_Listen more than you talk. (One of the best pieces of advice you’ll ever get.)

I could go on, but most of us know what to do. Good advice is almost never anything we did not already know. Most of our missteps are not made out of ignorance. Thus my last piece of free advice: THINK.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Guys Hitting Girls

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that college and professional athletes having been making the headlines for beating up on women. One of those even struck close to home when a Texas Tech football player punched a woman in a pick-up basketball game. That this woman was a scholarship player on the Lady Raiders basketball team and was knocking the boys around pretty good, resulted in both athletes being penalized with partial season suspensions. But, the fact remains that an angry young man punched a woman in the face. Inexcusable.

So what’s up with all the violence against women? First of all, it’s nothing new. Secondly, it gets more publicity than it used to. And third, it probably is happening more often than it used to. Men have been hitting women forever. It’s a terrible fact of life on planet earth. I can honestly say that by the grace of God I did not grow up around it. Women were pretty much put on a pedestal and treated with respect on both sides of my family. Unfortunately, I haven’t always upheld those values and confess that I’ve done my share of verbal and emotional abusing. And that can be just as bad, if not worse, than physical abuse. But, I’ve never hit a woman.

That some families have a history of physical abuse is well documented. And it’s not uncommon for the kids to get beat up just as badly as their mothers. It’s a cycle and when young men get the message that hitting a woman is what men do and that somehow it works; then those young men are inclined to hit women. In a culture that openly and without sanction calls women “bitches” and “whores”, violence against women flows naturally.

And in a society that values money, sex and power over all else; many women find themselves riding on mans most sensitive nerve. And I don’t mean the one between his legs. I mean the one between his ears and its name is EGO. The male ego is powerful. It can drive men to do great things and it can drive men to do terrible things. It is no surprise that high profile male athletes are often involved in violent acts. And not just against women. Money, sex, power and EGO. The stuff that drives a man to push himself to the limits to succeed on the field can lead to bad things off the field. Especially when mixed with drugs and alcohol.

At the end of the day, guys hit girls for the same reasons that people use and abuse other people in a variety of ways. It’s the fallen human condition. Who’s worse? The pro football player who knocks out his fiancĂ© and drags her off an elevator or the corporate executive who decides that it’s ok to allow kids in sweat shops to make his company’s merchandise? Who’s worse? The college athletes who take advantage of a drunken, passed-out coed or the middle-aged, family man who after tucking his kids into bed sits in the dark looking at pornographic images of young women on his laptop?

But first things first. Guys don’t hit girls. Period, end of discussion. From there, perhaps we can go to work on the deeper problems.

“The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles." - Gandhi

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Drivers Wanted

The truck driver shortage has finally reached the tipping point. The shortage has been around in varying degrees for over 30 years. After the industry was deregulated, truckload carriers started growing like crazy. Supply chains were redesigned and truckload carriers began hauling direct from manufacturing plants to store shelves. Truckload networks evolved to optimize service, utilization and empty miles. Drivers were not paid much, the trucks were plain vanilla and they stayed on the road 2-3 weeks at a time.

Pretty soon the industry figured out that there were not enough people willing to drive those trucks, for that pay, under those conditions. So the trucks got nicer, the pay got bumped up a few cents per mile and efforts were made to get drivers home more frequently. This formula was updated and used repeatedly depending on the state of the economy and the demand for trucking services. In addition to nicer trucks, more home time and a little extra money; carriers tried to become more “driver friendly”. Different approaches were tried operationally to improve communication and make sure that driver needs were being met. All sorts of programs and gimmicks were utilized to attract and retain drivers. Just make the job not suck and convince the drivers that they were highly valued team members and you might win the driver battle. And winning the driver battle meant beating your competition. It’s like the old joke about two hikers being chased by a bear. You don’t need to outrun the bear, just the other hiker. No one was really “winning” the driver battle. Some carriers just ran faster than others.

But now the industry is facing the perfect storm. It’s hard to find anything positive in the driver supply formula. Demographics, negative. There simply aren’t enough qualified younger people entering the workforce to replace the older drivers.

Regulations, negative. The regulatory environment has effectively taken drivers out of the pool either directly or the drivers have just given up on the industry and walked away.

Working conditions, negative. While the trucks may be nicer and easier to drive, and drivers get home more often; it’s still a tough job. Traffic congestion in particular has gotten much worse. Drivers are being paid by the mile and end up spending a lot of time just sitting in traffic gridlock hell. It’s much worse than it was only a few years ago.

Compensation, negative. When all of the hours are taken into account, not just “on duty”, the effective pay rate per hour is pretty marginal.

Competition from other industries, negative. There simply aren’t enough literate, drug-free, legal workers available for blue collar jobs that require literate, drug-free, legal workers.

This week Swift, the nation’s largest truckload carrier, stock dropped 18% when the company said that it was “constrained” by a challenging driver market in the second quarter, that turnover was higher than anticipated and offered guidance that EPS for the current period would be 3-7 cents below analysts’ estimates.

I predict that more large carriers will report that the driver shortage is having a major negative impact on earnings. I think we are on the cusp of a mega shift in the trucking industry. Rates will go up dramatically. There is no other option. By 2020, I predict that rates will be 40-50% higher than they are today (net of fuel surcharges). Some of that will go directly to drivers. Some will go toward equipment. Some will go to cover the cost of training and retaining drivers. This increased cost of moving freight over the road, will push more freight to the rails, elevate inventory levels and significantly impact the locating of manufacturing, processing, assembly and distribution points. And just about everything is going to cost a bit more. We’ve enjoyed a long run of relatively low logistics cost, much of it on the backs of working folks who just drive trucks for a living. Nothing last forever.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2nd Opinions

Several weeks ago I related the stories of my shoulder MRI, my surprise at the severity of the injury and the ultimate skepticism that led me to cancel the surgery and get a second opinion. So on Monday I got that second opinion. My wife went with me for the appointment, so I was prepared for a lot of second opinions. On the way to the appointment, I told her that my gut feel was that he would give me a shot and send me to therapy. There was just no way that my shoulder was that bad. She shook her head and commented that the shoulder has been bad for almost a year and that the first opinion was probably spot on. Nevertheless, she was glad that I was getting a second opinion and hopeful that if I did have surgery, I would have it done in the city.

Well, the second opinion was the same as the first. Only this time, the surgeon went into more detail. I suppose knowing that it was a second opinion, he decided that he needed to give me a full explanation.
Without going into all of the details, the bottom line is fix it now or else it will get much worse and may become un-repairable. To her credit, my wife did not say a word. At least not until we got back in the car and headed home. Man, that was a long drive.

And sometimes things just have a way of working out. The surgeon had a cancellation this Friday (probably some stubborn guy who decided to get a second opinion). Instead of having to wait a couple of weeks, I can get this over with now. So very, very early Friday morning we’ll be driving down to Big D for surgery. I’ll be back home Friday afternoon, arm in a sling and sleeping in a recliner for a couple of weeks. Been there done that, so I know what to expect. And oh by the way, my wife also gave me a second opinion. In her opinion, I’m really hard-headed and if I had listened to her, all of this would have been done last fall after the initial injury. Ok, Ok…I get it. I hate it when she’s right.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Job Market

So at the half-way mark of 2014, what does the job market look like for transportation, logistics and supply chain management professionals? My short answer is that it’s good, but not great. I might even call it very good for highly mobile candidates who have certain skills and experience. To be more specific, I would describe our job market in terms of good news and bad news.

The Good News:

_1 The job market in our industry is the best it’s been since before the Great Recession. It really started to bounce back in late 2011 and has continued to improve. And, I expect continued improvement through 2016 at least.

_2 The housing market has rebounded to the point where more people are not underwater on their homes so relocation is possible. Plus the overall improving job market makes it a bit easier for relocating spouses to find new employment. But this is still a challenge.

_3 If you are a safety, maintenance, operations or capacity development professional (and you are mobile), there are plenty of opportunities out there.

_4 Compensation/relocation packages are showing some signs of improvement. Are they where they need to be? No, but reality is starting to set in with employers.

_5 There just aren’t a lot of experienced (and mobile) transportation and logistics professionals. Especially on the “service provider” side, i.e. truckers, 3PL’s, freight forwarders, warehousing/distribution/fulfillment, final -mile, intermodal, etc. Over the past decade the transactional brokerage companies are really the only ones who have aggressively hired, trained and developed new talent. Unfortunately a significant number of those individuals do not stay in the industry and those who do tend to do very well and stay put. If you are a candidate, this is good news. If you’re an employer, not so much.

The Bad News

_1 Employers are being very selective. There is still a perception that there are “lots of good people out there looking for work.” So employers are not willing to “settle”. And if they do have to “settle” they will tend to hire on the cheap, promote from within or hire someone “from their network”. They are certainly not at the point of paying a premium (or paying a headhunter’s fee) for marginal talent.

_2 Given that employers are being “very selective”, the interview and hiring process tends to be increasingly long and tedious. However, we are starting to see employers losing out on candidates because they take too long to make a decision. Eventually, if this happens often enough, employers will begin to accelerate the process.

_3 The demand for sales professionals (direct contributors as well as managers) is way off. With freight volumes exceeding capacity at levels we’ve not seen in decades and no real solution to the capacity problem, companies are reluctant to add sales overhead just to generate more business they cannot handle.

_4 While the job market is the best it’s been since before the Great Recession, it’s still not back to 2004-2006 levels. Back then I would say that employers were so in need of talent that they looked for reasons to hire a candidate. Today it seems that we’re in a market where employers look for reasons NOT to hire a candidate.

_5 The uncertainty or lack of confidence with respect to our government continues to cloud expectations. I think it’s fair to say that most transportation/logistics industry leaders are concerned that whatever comes out of Washington is more likely than not to be unfavorable to their companies.

Ever the pessimist, I hope for the best but always expect the worst. But that said, I am actually pretty optimistic about the job opportunities in this industry. Stuff has to be moved from point A to point B and regardless of modes, points of origin and destination or the nature of “the stuff” being moved; it’s a process that requires equipment, facilities, technology, energy, money and people. It’s always a puzzle and it’s always changing, but it’s always there.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

And Then There Is Skepticism

“The path of sound credence is through the thick forest of skepticism”- George Jean Nathan

The “Pessimism” of June 28th turned into “Skepticism” on June 30th. A weekend of talking to friends and family about the upcoming shoulder surgery led me to postpone it. That’s a lot of wasted money on pre-op testing, but you know what…it’s my shoulder. Maybe it was the good round of golf Saturday afternoon; or maybe a couple of stories about people recovering from torn rotator cuffs without surgery; or recalling my rule about always getting a second opinion before letting someone cut you open; or maybe it’s just the fact as noted before that I’m still doing chores and working out and functioning pretty darn well even with a torn rotator cuff; or maybe I’m just a coward and don’t want to go through the rehab again.

Whatever it is, I’m getting a second opinion in a couple of weeks. (And if I don’t like that one, I may get a third.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why Pessimism Is Good For You

“The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it he knows too little.”
― Mark Twain

In the last installment I discussed my claustrophobia and having an MRI on my shoulder. I had reinjured a surgically repaired shoulder and noted that the doctor “thinks we might be able to avoid surgery or if we do have surgery he can just ‘scope’ it. “ Well, I had my follow up meeting with the doctor and he gives me the bad news. The MRI shows a significant tear (3cm) in the rotator cuff. It will require “open” surgery and we need to do it sooner rather than later. Seems that my tolerance for pain has worked against me. I injured the shoulder last September and thought it wasn’t that bad. Turns out I was wrong and now it’s almost too late to fix it. Not fixing it means that eventually the shoulder will lock up and just become a useless knot o f pain. The fact that I’m still working out, doing chores and playing golf is because I’m in good shape and have a high tolerance for pain (a trait which has been invaluable in both the trucking industry and headhunting.)

Once again I am reminded why optimism is way over-rated and expecting the worse nearly always makes sense. Had I expected the worse last year when I injured the shoulder, I would have gone to the doctor at that time. The repair would have been much easier and more likely to have a successful outcome. I would have also avoided months of pain and anxiety about what’s really wrong with my shoulder. Had I expected the worse when I finally went to the doctor, I would not have been so disappointed when he told me about the surgery requirement.

I am convinced that being a pessimist in the best and safest path to take in this life. Every time I try to be positive, reality kicks me in the balls. So I’m having another shoulder surgery on July 2. If I live through it and don’t get an infection I will be happy. I expect a lot of pain, weeks of torturous rehab and, at best, a weak and stiff shoulder when it’s all said and done. Anything better will be a bonus and exceed my wildest expectations. Now prepared for the worst, I can relax.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Don't Fence Me In

“Empty?! You took all the cookies!"
"They were crying to get out of the jar... Cookies get claustrophobia too, you know!”
― Charles M. Schulz

Hello, my name is Neal and I am claustrophobic. Seriously claustrophobic. I always knew that I had a strong tendency toward claustrophobia. Some of my earliest childhood memories were of my mother bathing me and washing my hair. She believed that the best way to rinse the soap out my hair was to lay me back in the tub, sort of a baptizing type of maneuver. She would dunk me, face up with just my nose above water and proceed to rub and massage all of the soap off of my little head. What should have been a pleasant experience actually freaked me out. Eventually she learned that the best way to rinse my hair was to let me get under the faucet and take care of it myself.

I didn’t think too much about it until I started playing football and discovered that I did not like piles of people, especially if I was on the bottom. I remember refs warning me about kicking my way out of pileups. The only other warning sign for me was the fear of car trunks. Back in the day, we had drive-in theaters and everyone in the car had to buy a ticket. That is everyone except the kids in the trunk. So we would stuff people in the trunk to save money. I tried it one time and they couldn’t even close the trunk before I was clawing my way out. Just could not do it. No way.

As I grew older I sort of forgot about my claustrophobia. Nothing seemed to bother me much. I could ride on crowded elevators, squeeze in to the window seat on an airplane or sit for long periods of time in a dentist chair with all sorts of tools and equipment locked and braced in my mouth and suffer no panic attacks. Then one day I was traveling on business and got stuck on a little commuter plane. It was one of those old metro liners that was like a flying tube with one seat rows going down both sides. We ended up sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off and it was a very warm and muggy day. Pretty soon it started to get hot and stuffy in that “flying tube”. And passengers started to squirm and bitch about the heat and the lack of air. Then it hit me. It took everything I had to keep from getting up from my seat and breaking out of that plane. I literally felt like I was going to die. Fortunately, a few minutes later the plane started to move and the air came on. I survived that episode but it was only a precursor of more to come.

I was in my 30’s when the suffocating “flying tube” panic attack hit me. After that I began to have problems with closed in or crowded spaces. It became imperative that I have an aisle seat on airplanes. If I got on a elevator, I stood near the door no matter how many people got on. “Step on by, I ain’t movin’. “ Dental work became a nightmare. I wasn’t worried about pain or discomfort. It was about being reclined back in the chair with the dentist and his assistant leaning over me, all sorts of hardware and tubes and hands stuck in my mouth and no way to escape. Then I began to have attacks at night. Especially in hotel rooms that were too small or had poor air circulation.

But I managed and found ways to get through the “attacks”. Until I had my first MRI. I had tolerated a bad shoulder for years. It was an old sports injury that got worse over time and I had reinjured it working out. I finally went to a shoulder specialist and he sent me for an MRI. OMG, I had no idea that I would be stuffed into this tiny tube for half hour being forced to listen to loud banging, grinding and gnawing. I lasted about…oh maybe 30 seconds. Get me out of here. So I found that I could only have an MRI if I was sedated. We rescheduled it so I would have someone to drive me home. I white-knuckled through with 10 mg of valium on board, but said I would never do that again.

Successful shoulder surgery followed, but my claustrophobia got worse. I could not even watch a movie or television show about someone being trapped or in a confined space. Then a couple of years later, I fell off of a roof (never had a fear of heights) and tore up my good shoulder. Back to the MRI machine, only this time, they had to give me an IV and about 20 mg of valium. It was still an awful experience. Frankly worse for me than the shoulder surgery and rehab.

The years went by and my claustrophobia got worse. Those MRI’s just haunted me. I swore I’d never take another one. Just shoot me. I wasn’t going back in that thing. Then about a year ago I re-injured my shoulder. It hasn’t gotten much better, so I finally went to the doctor. Trained professional that he is he determined that I had a bad shoulder, probably another rotator cuff or labrum injury. Gee whiz, exactly what I thought. He thinks we might be able to avoid surgery or if we do have surgery he can just ‘scope’ it. (The first two were open and I have long scars on each shoulder as reminders.) But doctors will do nothing without first getting an MRI. My greatest fear realized once more.

So last Friday, I had another MRI. It had been almost eight years since my last one. This is a new doctor and I had to tell him about my claustrophobia. He said let’s see if you can make it with 15 mg of valium, 10 an hour before the MRI and 5 more thirty minutes before. I agreed to give it a shot, but told him that it might not work. We might just have to knock me out. I swore I’d never take another one unless I was unconscious.

Well, as it turns out I survived it. It wasn’t fun and I could not have done it without the “little helpers”. But I did not suffer and I don’t think it will give me nightmares. I’m still trying to figure out what has changed inside of me. I’m older and that does make a difference for sure. But I think the biggest difference is that I don’t drink much anymore. I used to be a daily drinker. Not all day and not crazy amounts, but more than I should have. I’ve now cut way, way back. I’ll go for weeks at a time without so much as a beer. I had noticed that I slept better and seemed to be less irritable than back when I drank. After getting through the MRI, I decided to do a little research on alcohol and “phobias”. Turns out that there is a good bit of evidence that alcohol can make them worse.

I’m not a teetotaler and probably never will be. No one enjoys a good beer buzz or a couple of cocktails more than me. But one needs to be careful. Over time, what we put in our bodies does have an effect on our minds. Especially if we are already inclined toward certain types of damaging emotional responses and behaviors. I will always be claustrophobic, impatient and easily angered. We all have our demons. And the more doors and windows we leave open, the more they will visit us.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

To Be a Rock and Not to Roll

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

There is Classic Rock Music and then there are Classic Rock Songs. Any Mount Rushmore of Classic Rock Songs includes Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. The other three on my “Rushmore” are “Nights In White Satin” (Moody Blues), Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd) and All Along The Watch Tower (Jimi Hendrix). My wife has vetoed the playing of these at my funeral, but if I outlive her…watch out.

However, a problem has arisen with respect to “Stairway to Heaven”, a problem which I thought had been resolved long ago. Another band from back in the day, Spirit, had a song titled “Taurus” that starts out a lot like STH. I thought everybody knew this. Then I realized that a lot of people who used to know this are now dead or can no longer remember much of anything; certainly not Spirit or Randy California. (He did vocals, played guitar and was one of the band’s founders. He actually got his name from Jimi Hendrix. But that’s another story and also involves a Randy Texas. Randy California’s real name was Randy Craig Wolfe which should have been cool enough if you ask me.) Spirit’s instrumental “Taurus” was written and recorded a couple of years before STH. In fact, Spirit was a pretty hot band in the late 60’s and Led Zeppelin actually opened for them a couple of times. They no doubt heard “Taurus” and I guess the tune stuck in their head. They tweaked it just a tad, but it’s basically the same music used in the “Stairway to Heaven” intro.

So when Stairway to Heaven came out, those of us fortunate enough to have Spirit’s first album, creatively titled “Spirit”, immediately recognized the intro music as being essentially the same as Taurus. However, by this time the mainstream was starting to get on board with what would become Classic Rock. In addition, Spirit’s second album had come out with their biggest hit, “I Got a Line On You” (had nothing to do with drugs…or did it?). Spirit became known for that one hit and Led Zeppelin turned out to be one of the greatest rock bands ever. Spirit, the band was forgotten and Taurus, the song, became a footnote in Rock N’ Roll history.

Then this week we hear that Spirit’s founding bassist Mark Andes and the estate of the late Randy California are planning to file a copyright infringement lawsuit and seek an injunction that would prevent Zeppelin from re-releasing the album containing the song, which the band has plans to do this summer. I guess someone forgot to tie up a loose end somewhere. I always figured that some 40 odd years ago Spirit quietly got a check under the table and agreed to keep their mouth shut. And no one was going to pay attention to their handful of burned out fans who were mumbling something about Taurus and those English bastards ripping off our guys.

It’s still hard for me to imagine that this music is over 40 years old. That it’s being re-released and that someone would file suit over it is even more incredible. The cynic in me thinks that the lawsuit is just all part of the promotion. Once again Spirit is getting a check under the table along with a wink and a nod for helping out.

(Randy California died in 1997. He drowned in the Pacific ocean at the age of 45 while rescuing his 12-year-old son Quinn from a rip current near the home of his mother, Bernice Pearl, at Molokai, Hawaii. He managed to push Quinn (who survived) toward the shore.)

And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all, yeah
To be a rock and not to roll

And she's buying a stairway to heaven

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Talent or Skill or Something More Part II

Last time we talked about the importance of talent and skill, the differences between talent and skill and how to evaluate them. We noted that while talent and skill are critical to success, they are not enough. The application of talent and skill requires a strong work ethic as well as the right attitude. We’ve all seen talented and skilled people who lacked the work ethic to be successful. And, then there are those who have the talent, the skill and the work ethic; but their attitude is so negative or downright poisonous that it negates everything else. We proceeded to conclude that if you hire a person who has talent, skills, a strong work ethic and the right attitude; you would expect to have a winner. We noted that organizations go to great lengths to evaluate candidates with regard to these key factors. And then we asked the question: Why do we see so many poor hiring decisions?

Before addressing that question, we need to clarify what we mean here by poor hiring decisions. Just because a hire does not work out, does not mean that it’s a poor hiring decision. Sometimes an organization is so far gone, that even the most capable and qualified candidate cannot succeed. What we’re talking about here is the case where the strategy and resources are such that it is reasonable to expect a successful outcome. Under those conditions, how could a talented, skilled, hard-working professional with a great attitude not be successful?

We alluded to it last time. I called it the “situation”. A better term would be “relevant background”. Specific industry knowledge and experience are critical in certain sectors. In service industries the required knowledge and experience is very critical. And the smaller the organization, the more critical that knowledge and experience becomes. Time and again I have witnessed companies hire executives who lack the “relevant background” to succeed in their organization. It’s risky for me to give specific examples. They know who they are. But, let’s be honest we’ve all seen it. Some of us have had the painful experience of working for one of these companies. Some of us have even been hired for positions we should not have been hired for just because we could check off four out of five boxes: Talent-check, Skills-check, Work Ethic-check, Attitude-check, Background/Experience- meh…close enough.

Realistically, it can be virtually impossible to find candidates who check off every box at the optimal level. My advice to clients is to set REASONABLE REQUIREMENTS for each for these five key factors. Obviously, those requirements will vary by the level and responsibilities of the position. As a general rule, for lower level roles where you have the time and resources for training; you should focus more on talent, work ethic and attitude than skills and background/experience. But when you get to management and executive level positions, especially those closest to operational and commercial activities, you better be CHECKING ALL OF THE BOXES. Don’t get blinded by exceptional candidates who lack the relevant background and experience to succeed in the position. Set reasonable requirements for ‘background/experience’ and do not compromise.

There is a tendency, especially when “non-industry” people are involved in the hiring decision (you know who you are), to hire for the board room not for the business. While I think it’s good to have the outsiders’ perspectives on hiring, just remember…they are outsiders. Sometimes you have no choice other than to go with their decision. But, you can tilt the odds in your favor by starting out with the right specs for the position. And those specs should include industry background/experience that is clearly relevant to the position.

If you happen to be the candidate in one of these “beauty contests”, you should do your own “box checking” . If you lack the relevant background and experience, ask those with whom you interview about the importance of these key factors. And if you get short, empty answers or different answers from different interviewers, those are big red flags. Park your ego at the door and be honest with yourself. Lacking the background and experience in this specific industry segment, can you succeed in this position in this organization?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Talent or Skill or Something More

Talent: A special ability that allows someone to do something well. Innate ability or aptitude.
Skill: The ability to do something that comes from training, experience or practice. Developed talent or ability.
-Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Every company wants to hire the best person for the job. And every person wants the job that is best for them. Seems simple enough. So why are there so many hiring mistakes? Why do so many companies hire the wrong people and why do so many people take the wrong jobs? People are involved and that always makes it messy. I have certainly come to understand that there are no “sure things” when it comes to hiring. One thing that is “sure” is the difference between TALENT and SKILL. What is not so sure is how one determines or measures talent and skill levels? And, when it comes to doing a specific job, which is more important, talent or skill? And are they even enough?

I have a number of clients who test for talent. These tests tend to measure a candidate’s intellectual capacity or critical thinking ability. They may also use assessment tools to identify work behaviors and management styles. I am actually a big believer in the use of testing and assessments to determine if a candidate has “the required” talent and personality to fit the position (and/or the company). And clearly there are positive correlations between test/assessment results and job success. But, I see some employers setting the bar so high or the specs so tight on their testing that they unnecessarily eliminate candidates who have developed exceptional skills for the position. Or they try to use the one size fits all approach to testing. News flash: Safety people have different profiles than Operations or Sales people. So if you’re going to test and profile candidates, make sure that you are using the right tools in the right way. Otherwise, you will end up eliminating some of the best candidates and selecting from a very small pool of candidates who “pass the tests” or “fit the profile”. You may even end up hiring someone who has the “talent” but lacks the skills to do the job. The old saying “Hire for talent, train for skills” is great advice as long as you’re prepared to “train”. And, oh by the way, can you afford the time and missteps that come from placing a talented, but “unskilled”, person in the job?

Ideally, you want to hire people who are talented AND skilled. And for management and executive positions, you absolutely need both talent and skill. In addition to “testing” for talent, past performance can say a lot about talent level. It can also be a strong indicator of skill. It is often said that past performance is the best indicator of future performance. It’s a simple formula right? Person has the ability (talent) + person develops the ability (skill) = positive performance. Well, not exactly. POSITIVE PERFORMANCE IS NOT ONLY A FUNCTION OF TALENT AND SKILL. It is also the result of application (work), orientation (attitude) and situation (industry, company, location, economy, etc….not the Jersey Shore guy).

So, we can test, assess and interview in ways that help us determine a candidate’s talent level. Education, certifications and past experience/performance also tend to reflect talent and some level of skill. They also give us a sense of application (work) and orientation (attitude). Therefore, if we hire someone who is talented, skilled, possesses a strong work ethic and positive attitude and all of this has been demonstrated with a successful track record of performance, we have a winner. Maybe, maybe not.

The most over-looked and under-estimated variable in the “performance” equation is the “situation”. I call it Ego’s blind spot. And the further up the organizational food chain one travels, the bigger the blind spot. Smart, successful people like to hire other smart, successful people. Self-made birds of a feather flock together. Give a hiring committee a talented, skilled candidate with a record of accomplishments and “executive presence” and you have the proverbial “slam dunk” placement.

So why do so many “slam dunks” hit the back of the rim? We’ll talk about that next time.

Friday, April 18, 2014


“To know oneself, is above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against the Truth, and not the other way around.”- Flannery O’Connor

From a USA Today article by Lori Grisham

Someone has recently taken up permanent residence on a park bench outside St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Davidson, N.C.

It's "Homeless Jesus," a bronze sculpture by Timothy Schmalz installed in February, which depicts Jesus lying on a park bench under a blanket. His face and hands are covered. His feet, wounded from the crucifixion, are exposed.

"It makes people think about their faith commitment and the plight of the homeless in this country," the Rev. David Buck, St. Alban's minister, told USA TODAY Network.
It's "life-size, interactive, and in keeping with our church's commitment to social justice," he said, noting that the church considers art to be connected to spiritual growth.

The community, which Buck describes as "affluent," has mostly expressed positive reactions to the piece, he says, adding that everyone from atheists to conservative Christians have expressed admiration.

"We wanted to remind ourselves that our faith expresses itself not in beautiful buildings only, but mainly in care for those less fortunate, the marginalized," he said.
A plaque near the sculpture calls the artwork a "visual prayer" for Kate MacIntyre, a member of the church who died in 2007.

A church member gave the statue as a gift in memory of Kate MacIntyre, a former member who died of cancer in 2007. MacIntyre loved public art and helped start art initiatives in the Davidson community, Buck said.

"Homeless Jesus" cost $22,000, but the church did not foot any of the bill, according to Buck.


I guess I just don’t have a Christian heart. Whatever faith I profess must not go deep enough. Because my reaction to the above report was “really?” While I do believe that Christians (and people of all faiths along with ethical atheists and society in general) should do their part to help those who are less fortunate; how much help is enough? And what sort of help should be offered? When does help just become a way of enabling those on a self-destructive path to enjoy a more comfortable ride? And when does help redirect someone to a better life?

There are a lot of causes for homelessness. Many of the homeless have mental problems. There are drug and alcohol abuse issues. And many of these are veterans. A high percentage of kids who grow up in foster care, end up on the street when they are too old to remain in “the system”. There are the teenage runaways and sexually abused. A disproportionate number of LGBT young people end up on the street. (Ironically many of them rejected by Christian families and communities that now buy $22,000 bronze art pieces to remind themselves not to neglect the homeless.)

We can “think about” our “faith commitment” and the “plight of the homeless”. And perhaps thinking about it will make us feel better or feel worse or just feel. We can also do something by providing basic food, clothing and shelter to those in need. In the grand scheme of things it really does not cost us that much to help the homeless and Jesus pretty much commands us to do so. But don’t play the “Jesus was a homeless person” card. Jesus was much more than a person and although He did not make it His home, He owns this planet and all of creation. In this Easter Season, I don’t see Jesus sleeping on a park bench. He has work to do. We all have work to do.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25: 34-40

Saturday, April 5, 2014

If You Don’t Like The Weather, Just Wait….

I read an article this week about Global Cooling. It was written by Keith Schaefer, Editor/Publisher, and titled “Global COOLING – The Real Inconvenient Truth, Part 1.” I must say that Part 1 left me looking forward to Parts 2 and 3. It also led to me look up some other reports regarding the subject of Global Cooling. There’s a lot out there on both sides of the argument. I’m not sure what to believe, but the Global Cooling arguments are starting to make a lot of sense to me. In addition to Schaefer’s recent article, I would also recommend one written last year in Forbes magazine by Peter Ferrara, “To The Horror of Global Warming Alarmists, Global Cooling Is Here”,(

If forced to pick a side in the debate, I come down on the side of Global Cooling. Do I think human activity is having an impact on the earth’s environment? Yes, of course. But compared to the impact of ocean temperature cycles and sun spots, we are just a blip on the map of climate change history. When one reads the reports and reviews the data, it makes some sense that we are heading for a period of significant global cooling. After providing a summary of warming and cooling periods since the Middle Ages, Schaefer makes the following observations about more recent temperatures:

1. Temps continued to fall from 1953 until the mid-1970s – despite rising CO2 levels. This was during the single most industrializing time on earth—and temperatures fell while CO2 levels rose.

2. Another point: if CO2 emissions cause global warming the layer of the atmosphere 5 to 10 km (3-6 miles) above the earth where CO2 interacts with sunlight should be warming more quickly than the earth’s surface. In fact, temperatures at these levels have been unchanged since accurate balloon measurements became available 50 years ago.

3. There has been a large outcry about the decline of Arctic Ice. While Arctic sea ice extent is just above average levels, Arctic sea ice is near record thickness: the volume of ice in the Arctic last fall was 50% higher than 12 months prior, following a very cold summer in 2013 in which temps climbed above freezing only 45 days compared to an average of 90 days. I bet you didn’t read about that.

4. There’s a lot of ice at the other end of the globe too. In eight of the last ten years global sea ice extent has bested the 30-year average, aided by an Antarctic sheet that in October hit its highest extent since record keeping started in 1979.

5. The Northern Hemisphere had its second, third, and fourth highest snow extents on modern record in 2010, 2011, and 2013. In the United States 2013 brought the largest year-over-year drop in temperature on record and the winter is on track to be labeled the third coldest in 200 years.

Evidence of this cooling is everywhere – even if politicians and the media try to pretend it isn’t. Of course, the media has short memories. Only 40 years ago, in mid-1974 Time magazine ran a cover story entitled “Another Ice Age?” noting a 12% increase in New Hampshire snow cover in 30 years.

Conclusion: over the last 1,200 years the earth has been through several pretty extreme temperature swings. What gives?
The answer lies with the sun. Cold periods coincide with solar minimums, which generally happen every 150 to 200 years. Warm periods coincide with solar maxima, which happen every 700 years or so.

And then there is this from the Ferrara article:

The increase in global temperatures since the late 19th century just reflects the end of the Little Ice Age. The global temperature trends since then have followed not rising CO2 trends but the ocean temperature cycles of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Every 20 to 30 years, the much colder water near the bottom of the oceans cycles up to the top, where it has a slight cooling effect on global temperatures until the sun warms that water. That warmed water then contributes to slightly warmer global temperatures, until the next churning cycle.

Those ocean temperature cycles, and the continued recovery from the Little Ice Age, are primarily why global temperatures rose from 1915 until 1945, when CO2 emissions were much lower than in recent years. The change to a cold ocean temperature cycle, primarily the PDO, is the main reason that global temperatures declined from 1945 until the late 1970s, despite the soaring CO2 emissions during that time from the postwar industrialization spreading across the globe.

The 20 to 30 year ocean temperature cycles turned back to warm from the late 1970s until the late 1990s, which is the primary reason that global temperatures warmed during this period. But that warming ended 15 years ago, and global temperatures have stopped increasing since then, if not actually cooled, even though global CO2 emissions have soared over this period. As The Economist magazine reported in March, “The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO2 put there by humanity since 1750.” Yet, still no warming during that time. That is because the CO2 greenhouse effect is weak and marginal compared to natural causes of global temperature changes.

At first the current stall out of global warming was due to the ocean cycles turning back to cold. But something much more ominous has developed over this period. Sunspots run in 11 year short term cycles, with longer cyclical trends of 90 and even 200 years. The number of sunspots declined substantially in the last 11 year cycle, after flattening out over the previous 20 years. But in the current cycle, sunspot activity has collapsed. NASA’s Science News report for January 8, 2013 states:

“Indeed, the sun could be on the threshold of a mini-Maunder event right now. Ongoing Solar Cycle 24 [the current short term 11 year cycle] is the weakest in more than 50 years. Moreover, there is (controversial) evidence of a long-term weakening trend in the magnetic field strength of sunspots. Matt Penn and William Livingston of the National Solar Observatory predict that by the time Solar Cycle 25 arrives, magnetic fields on the sun will be so weak that few if any sunspots will be formed. Independent lines of research involving helioseismology and surface polar fields tend to support their conclusion.”

And if you have 75 minutes to invest in the subject, the documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle" is an eye-opener.

Perhaps I am being overly influenced by the winter of 2013-2014 here in North America. While we experienced one of the worst winters in recent memory, other parts of the Northern Hemisphere had record warmth and little moisture. There are plenty of data points from the last 50 years that point toward global warming. But I am inclined to believe that something else is going on over time that has gone on before. Our lives are short and we view our time here as special. As our scientific knowledge grows, we come to believe that we know cause and effect. And knowing cause and effect, we should be able to find solutions. Or can we? If today’s climate is too hot or too dry and we can’t fix it, where does that leave us? And if over the next 150 years the winters get longer and colder and humans can’t fix that either; perhaps they will just blame us for going too green, too soon.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


'Thank God we can't tell the future. We'd never get out of bed.”
- Tracy Letts, August Osage County.

Otto is an old dachshund whose story went viral last week. It’s a sad tale, but with a happy ending:

“A 13-year-old Dachshund will be reunited with his owners after the elderly couple left him tied up outside a California animal shelter, with a heartbreaking note attached saying they were too sick and poor to cover the dog's medical expenses.

The dog, named Otto, was found outside of the Baldwin Park Animal Shelter near Los Angeles with a hand-written note asking that he be put to sleep because his owners could not afford to care for him, Yahoo News reported.

The note reads, "Our dog is 13 1/2 years old he is sick starting yesterday with bloody stools, vomiting," according to the website. "Had a skin disease for a few years. We are both seniors, sick with no money. We cannot pay for vet bills, or to put him to sleep. He has never been away from us in all those years, he cannot function without us, please put him to sleep."

Workers at the shelter reportedly notified Leave No Paws Behind, Inc., a foster-based rescue operation that specializes in seniors. Yahoo News reported that when Otto was later examined by a veterinarian, it was determined that his condition could be treated and that he likely had more years in which to live.
The rescue group reached out to the dog's owners -- after it was clear the Dachshund had been well taken care of -- to reunite the pooch with the couple.”

I was glad to hear that Otto was rescued, treated and will return to his elderly owners. Sounds like he might even outlive them. Otto dodged a bullet. (Perhaps quite literally if his owners had been Texans.) But it does beg the question, when is it time to put down an old dog? One of ours, Dillon, is 15 years old and he’s still hanging in there. We also have a 5 year old dog, Boudreaux, who pesters Dillon and keeps him active. But the old dog is reaching the end of the line. Dillon has lost about half of his teeth, does not see well, his hearing is about gone and arthritis has taken a toll on his hips and legs. He wakes us up early (real early) every morning and when we don’t wake up or get up he stumbles off into the bathroom to use the tile floor as he still recalls the scolding he got once upon a time for going on the carpet. We don’t like cleaning up his mess in the bathroom, but what are you going do? Whack old Dillon with a newspaper for being old? Even Boudreaux seems to understand that his old friend and mentor can’t help it.

My wife says we need to get a pup and start breaking him in so Boudreaux won’t be alone when Dillon is gone. I say that I’m not sure I want to start up with another dog. The actuarial tables say that I would most likely outlive another dog. But what happens when Boudreaux is gone. Do we get another pup so the surviving dog doesn’t get lonely in his old age? At some point, the oldest dog becomes the last dog and I’d just as soon not leave one behind when I check out.

Thinking about when should a dog’s life end always brings me to the controversial subject of when should a person’s life end. First off, animals and humans are different. God did not make animals in his own image. So we are special and sacred. Therefore, I’m pretty conservative when it comes to the pro-life/abortion discussion. But, I tend to lean to “the left” when it comes to “end of life” issues. When people say that it’s up to God to decide when a person’s life should come to an end, I am inclined to agree with them. But when they go on to argue that it’s our duty to do everything to keep people alive for as long as possible, I must respectfully disagree. There is that “quality of life” conundrum. Who gets to say when the quality of a person’s life is so bad that it’s time to pull the plug? And there’s the other side of the question, who gets to say when the quality of a person’s life is so bad that you “plug” them into some device in the first place? Can we have it both ways? Can we accept that God says when we die, but we say how long, as well as "how" we live even after all indications are that God has said it’s time to die?

There is no one right answer for every person and every situation. I know that I do not want to be dumped off at the county hospital someday with a note on my ‘jammies saying that I’m too old and sick to take care of anymore. Especially, if like old Otto, I have a few more good years left in me. At this point, I plan on using Dillon’s tile floor standard . As long as I’m not making a mess on the carpet, I say life is worth living.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Why did Allen, Texas build a $60M football stadium? Simple answer…BECAUSE THEY COULD. Why are people all over the nation, including many in Texas, now cracking up over the news that Eagle Stadium is…wait for it…cracking up? Simple answer…HUMAN NATURE.

When it comes to spending money on sports and entertainment; and make no mistake, Texas High School Football is big-time entertainment in these parts; Americans in particular are willing to spend money. Their own as well as that of the taxpayers. Just the tax exemptions alone on municipal bonds issued for the building of sports complexes cost the U.S. Treasury nearly $150M per year. The city of Arlington TX borrowed over $300M via tax-exempt bonds to help Jerry Jones build the Cowboys’ new stadium. And it is turning out to be a good deal for Arlington. The stadium is constantly in use for sports and entertainment venues (most of them, oh by the way, vastly superior to Cowboy games) and the economic impact on the city of Arlington is huge.

Allen, TX envisioned a similar outcome from their investment. It’s not just about high school football. It’s about other sporting events, concerts and revivals (don’t forget, this is the Bible belt.). For the time being, those cracks in the stadium are a minor setback and probably brought about by the hand of God to teach a lesson in humility to the folks in Allen.

But the bigger question for all of us is how much money should we spend on sports and entertainment? What do our tax codes and our personal spending habits say about our priorities. How do we spend our time? I promise you that aside from work, I spend more time watching, reading and talking about sports than anything else. At the end of the day, most Americans must admit that they are more interested in sports and entertainment than they are in the health, education and welfare of themselves or the fellow citizens. We won’t take the time to vote, go to church, help someone in need or even just read a book; but we will find the time to watch American Idol or our favorite sport. So don’t feel too smug about the cracks in Eagle Stadium. We’re all standing on shaky ground.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

File Dump

I’ve been too busy lately to organize my thoughts so as to write more than a line or two about any particular subject. And most of the subjects that come to mind have been controversial and I don’t want to piss people off. (Well, actually I don’t mind pissing people off. But when it comes to really controversial subjects I sometimes piss myself off and I just don’t want to be pissed off right now.)
Nevertheless, a lot of stuff has been bouncing around in my head, so I figured that I might as well unload. I’ll return to some of these subjects in the weeks ahead and elaborate further.

_1. The Winter Olympics suck. I am impressed by the athletes and many of the events are a lot of fun..IF you are the one doing them. But as spectator sports, they suck. Curling? Really?

_2. I am so tired of the environmentalists bitching about fracking, tar sands and the Keystone pipeline. Are there risks? Of course. Would it be better if we actually had cleaner energy options totally up and running TODAY which could replace fossil fuels? Sure. But we are where we are and we need to move forward with the utilization of our own natural resources.

_3. I still like Chris Christi.

_4. The Denver Broncos really let me down. They looked old and slow compared to the Seattle Seahawks. I still do not like Pete Carroll.

_5. Winters like this make me so glad that I no longer have any responsibility for trucks on the road or moving freight from point A to point B.

_6. The truck driver shortage is real and will get worse. It is only one piece of the labor shortage puzzle this country will face during the first half of this century. It is a major strategic problem for the U.S. economy.

_7. Michael Sam, the football player, is gay. Nothing to see here. Move on.

_8. Most of the Western US from California to Texas is experiencing an epic drought. Whether it is global warming or just part of a 500 or 1000 or 10,000 year cycle…if it last much longer we are in big trouble.

_9. College basketball has become almost unwatchable. Too many foul calls and the last 3 minutes of every game are nothing but time outs and free throws.

_10. I finally gave up my blackberry and got an android. I miss my blackberry.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


I am a college football fan. And as an alumnus and supporter of Texas Tech University, that makes me a fan who alternates between joy and despair. I also pay close attention to our recruiting of high school and junior college players. Who are we getting and who’s going to the competition? In reality, the whole recruiting process has gotten ridiculous and that I should spend so much time reading about it makes me look pretty ridiculous. But that can wait for another blog on another day. What is of particular interest in the wake of National Signing Day (NSD) when players sign their official letters of intent, is the rating of a team’s recruits.

Over the past twenty years a substantial industry has grown up around the evaluation of would be college football players. And most of the rating services have adopted a “star” rating system. Five star players are rare and essentially regarded as can’t miss prospects. There is a slightly larger pool of four star players. These are really good players who are also more likely to turn into exceptional players than lower rated athletes. Nevertheless, most of the “four stars” turn out to be no better than average or worse. Then there are the two and three star guys. Few will become great players, some will be average, most will not make it. Many will end up at smaller schools off the beaten track along with one star and non-rated players. A small number of them will develop into great players and even end up in the NFL. In the final analysis “stars” do matter and usually the team that ends up winning the National Championship is loaded with four and five star talent.

But what about the teams that consistently have no better than average or below average talent, but somehow achieve above average results. Kansas State is the classic example of such a program. And there are others. Over the years, I would even say that my Texas Tech Red Raiders have over-achieved relative to the quality of players they recruit. Boise State is another example of a consistent over-achiever. And lately, the Baylor Bears. Then , of course, there are the under-achievers…cough, cough, Texas Longhorns…cough, cough.

So beyond just getting the best raw talent, what’s the formula for building a high performance team? First, the coach (manager) must put them in the best position to win, strategically and tactically. Second, the team members have to clearly know their assignments. What is the job they must do and what are the desired outcomes? Third, they must have the coaching, training and tools to do the job? Lastly, members of the team must be fully engaged mentally, emotionally and physically to the task at hand.

There’s no question that a team needs a certain level of talent to be successful. But even the best talent will not win if the strategy is poor and/or the tactics are ill-advised. And a talented team can have a great game plan and still fail if the team members do not clearly understand their roles. Yet top talent, great strategy/tactics and perfect job descriptions will not get results. Team members must have the skills training and tools to do the job. The devil is in the details and poor technique and/or a lack of training will get you beat. Lastly, the team members must execute on the field. If the team members are not fully committed and hitting on all cylinders, even the most talented, well-coached team will lose. We see it in sports, business and politics.

Talent is a great starting point. And the saying is true that “you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken- ____.” But success goes way beyond just being talented or having a talented team. You must have a good plan. Know what to do. Know to how to do it and have the tools to do it. And then go do it. Consultants will charge you a lot of money and then tell you the same thing. It’s not rocket science. But it’s really hard to do. Great leaders (coaches or managers) have somehow found ways to find the pieces and put them together. They understand that star power will only get you so far. Ultimately it is team performance that determines the outcome.